I read this post at my old friend’s blog and could not believe the comments.

FYI, Shireen and I go back a long way (we were in kindergarten together and her mother was one of my primary school teachers).

Obviously, we have grown up to be very different people.

I have had two maids in the past (in Malaysia – not something I like mentioning for what will become obvious reasons) and their mistreatment has caused me to come to blows with some of my family members. Suffice to say, I no longer have maids (and not only because I am here in the US – Lokes and I made the decision to stop at our second maid and I’d stay home with the kids long before we decided to come here).

Now I am not calling myself a humanitarian-wannabe because I’m not.

Question: Do foreign labour agents literally have it in their TOP THREE TIPS TO CONTROL YOUR MAID these little nuggets of advice?

  1. They are NOT your friends. 
  2. They are NOT here to have a life, only to make a living.
  3. Be a-holes or they will not take you seriously.

Honestly, because this seems to be exactly how most employers of foreign maids treat the help.

How can one not have a problem with people who don’t bother hiding their disdain for maids, the only crime of the latter being that they were born in the wrong place at the wrong time with a government that has forced half the nation into voluntary indentured servitude, be it out of fear or ignorance, or both?

In my friend’s post, one of the commenters said that it was not her job to teach the maid English, but it is, for some  bizarre reason, the maid’s job (aside from having to clean house and watch the kids) to teach her children Malay.

I know it may be seem too benevolent all of a sudden to bestow upon a mere servant the delicate instruction of the language arts and make like Professor Higgins but surely there is the invaluable benefit of teaching your children the values of kindness and respect even for those who wash our toilets and for some, our backsides? People with far fewer opportunities than to get married and pregnant at 15 and be shipped off to a faraway place to slave for people who treat them worse than their pets? Surely they too deserve some measure of respect, for having summoned the courage and spirit to go to a place where they can hardly speak the language or stomach the food without having to endure day after day of verbal and sometimes even physical abuse by people who know nothing about them and won’t even bother to find out, just to feed their families?

Surely that is far more essential than protecting your kids from the dangers of broken English?

It disturbs me to realise that there may be thousands, or tens of thousands of women – mothers, no less – in Malaysia who may be subjecting their children to a household of harsh words to the help (fear the alliteration!), believing that they owe these strangers no more kindness than the stray dog that guards their house because it is fed scraps and has a gate outside of which to sleep.

Where is all the religion and education and upbringing we’ve used to set ourselves apart from these people, some of whom are little more than children?

Six years ago, when my agent brought my first maid to our house, a slight slip of a woman in her mid 30s (very old for a maid – I’d specifically asked for someone much older) named Turi, she came and sat beside me at the dinner table.

The agent, Susan, entered the house a little later and all of a sudden, barked something. Walking briskly to the table, Susan firmly put an arm on Turi and led her to the floor beside us. 

“Don’t ever let her sit with you at the dinner table,” she said to us chidingly, before muttering to Turi something about being taught better. Turi, who was grinning apologetically, kneeled on the floor next to my chair, like an obedient pet.

I reacted.

“No, no she can sit with us please, this is not necessary,” I’d protested, more alarmed than anything else.

“No, you mustn’t. This is to teach them their proper place,” she’d answered simply, before opening her files.

“No, I insist please. This is making me uncomfortable,” I’d added, taking Turi’s hand and helping her up to sit next to me at the table, where she perched for the next half an hour nervously at the edge of a chair, as though about to take off at the slightest sign of trouble.

Susan eyed me and said to me in Cantonese, “You need to be more strict if you want to keep her in control, Mrs Tan.”

With that, she gave Turi a curt glance, before putting on a bright smile and handed me Turi’s contract. 

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